Saturday, August 08, 2009

Julie & Julia

"I have called you by name. You are mine... You are precious in my eyes." Isaiah 43:1,4

Julie & Julia is the story of two real-life people half a century apart in their journey into cooking.

Julia Child, as most anyone knows, is a chef and television personality and the author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961). Julie Powell, on the other hand, is an average American woman who succeeded in cooking all of Julia Child's 524 recipes in one year and documented the experience in her own book, Julie & Julia (2005).

The movie is a delightful back-and-forth between the two women's lives. One critic scolded the film for equating a young adult novice cook from Queens with the accomplished and infamous Julia Child, saying that the two were far from equals.

In terms of accomplishment, I would say the critic has a point. But I don't think that's what he meant, and that's where I have a problem.

The life story of Julia Child (played in the film wonderfully by Meryl Streep) reveals that she was not born a cook. In fact, she did not learn the art of French cooking until she was well into her 40s and began on television in her 50s. The film shows that she stumbled upon culinary interests when she was trying to figure out what to do with her time in Paris while her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) worked as an officer for the U.S. Information Agency. She then struggled to get anyone to publish the 700+ page cookbook she and her French co-writers had developed.

Julia's experiences reveal that she was very much human, just like anyone else... just like a young adult such as Julie Powell (Amy Adams) just trying to make her own way in the world in the early 2000s. Julia's story may give us an insight into a genius cook, but Julie's story gives us hope. For average, everyday people, Julie's story is all-too-familiar.

Like so many others, Julie feels lost in her bureaucratic cubicle job. Like so many others, Julie is trying to figure out what she's really passionate about. Like so many others, Julie feels just a little bit cramped in her home, with never enough room to move around. And like so many others, Julie just wants her voice to matter in the world.

Julie's story is one that I can identify with. She's a fellow blogger, only her love is Julia Child's cooking whereas mine is popular movies. The blog was Julie's way of sharing her insights with others, hoping it might make a difference for someone - just as this blog is my way of sharing my insights with you, hoping that it might make some difference in your life.

So in this film about two women's adventures into cooking, one story is not better than another. Julia Child might be more famous, but Julie Powell proves that God mades us all worthy of our story being put to celluloid.

To God, all our stories are special and worthy of a Friday night at the movies. To God, each of us has a unique journey to take - and watches with great anticipation what our next move might be. Society today has a way of extolling the rich, famous, and powerful, as if their stories are better than ours - even when your story and my story might be more interesting than those of the celebraties on or the world leaders at a G-8 Summit.

That movie reviewer who critized the film for making Julie and Julia equals doesn't see people as God sees people - as all incredibly special in their own right. But what about you? Do you think that your story - and the stories of those average everyday people around you today - are just as great as your role models', heroes', and favorite movie stars' stories? God does.

It is God that says to us: "I have called you by name. You are mine... You are precious in my eyes" (Isaiah 43:1,4) God has called Julia Child by name and Julie Powell by name, and they are both precious in God's eyes, each unique and wonderful in their own way.

God has called you by name. God knows you and you are His. You, just like Julia & Julie, the President and the Pope, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams and any famous actor, the saints, the prophets, and all the great people of history, are precious in God's eyes. He is waiting to see what you'll do next in the great movie of your life... and so am I and all those around you.

So go ahead, and make your next move. Make your life as extraordinary as God knows it is.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Funny People

" good times and in bad, in sickness and in health..."

In Funny People, we find out right away that famous comic George Simmons (Adalm Sandler) has been diagnosed with an untreatable blood disorder - not a very funny circumstance, to be sure.

Before this revelation, George Simmons seemed to live life to the fullest - making a lot of money, staring in several successful movies, living in an opulant mansion, being connected to all sorts of celebraties, taking different girls to bed each night, and so forth. But upon discovering the news that he was dying, his life screeched to a halt. He started to re-examine what he had done and began to make amends for the mistakes of his past.

He decides to return to his roots by doing stand-up comedy like he used to - and to do this well, he grooms an up-and-coming comic named Ira Wright (Seth Rogan) to write his new jokes but also to accompany him on this final leg of the journey. Upon Ira's advice, he strengthens the bonds between himself and his celeb friends. In effect, he becomes a new man.

In my work in the church, I have seen so many people come back to God and rediscover a new version of themselves when times are rough. Sickness, job loss, grieving, economic hardships, persecution, and uncertainty can bring people into a deeper relationship with God and help them become a better person in the process. The image of God as a gentle comforter, or a "good shepherd" who looks out for his sheep, is very important to those who are struggling through life.

SPOILER ALERT: But what happens when times are good? In Funny People, George finds out that the experimental medicine he was taking is actually working - and he is cured. Sadly, this news makes George revert back to his old ways, even though he claims he is a changed man. He falls back into old habits and rejects those who are trying to help him.

In the Christian wedding ceremony, the officiant asks the bride and groom whether or not they will be with each other in all circumstances, " good times and in bad, in sickness and in health..." Using that popular phrase and applying it to our relationship with God, are we with Him in good times and in bad times, in sickness and in health, when we're down on our luck and when we're doing well, when we're alone and when we're surrounded by friends...?

It's common to come to God and be a stronger person when life isn't going so well. But it's uncommon to return to the gospel and become honorable and just when life is great.

Sadly, our churches do not have enough rituals to celebrate the good times and to, as St. Paul says in Romans 12: 15, "laugh with those who laugh and weep with those who weep." We have great pastoral care to comfort the broken-hearted and to tend to the sick, but do we have the tools to be with people when things are going smooth?

Regardless, I urge you to come to God and be a part of a faith community even when things are fantastic. George Simmons missed the point and took the easy route by coming to his senses when things were rough while falling into bad habits when things looked great. Don't repeat George Simmons' mistakes.

Instead, let us pray for each other that we may turn to God in all circumstances, at all times, and in all ways.